Book: The Exact Opposite of Okay
Author: Laura Steven
Published By: Electric Monkey
Expected Publication: 8th March (what is this madness? An ARC review on time for once?)
Format: Physical copy, paperback
Thanks to Electric Monkey for allowing me to have a free copy of this book! This in no way influenced my opinion of it.
I got an ARC of The Exact Opposite of Okay at YALC last year and I was super excited to read it as it was one both me and my friend Hannah were determined to get. We kept going back to the stand every time that they did ARC drops in the hope of getting one and eventually, on the Saturday, we were both lucky enough to get one. This book sounded exactly up my street, feminism and humour? Yes please! I was a little worried that it wouldn’t live up to expectations I had in my head, but I shouldn’t have, this book is funny, unapologetically feminist and a must read for all teenagers, boy or girl. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has…
First off, I have to talk about Izzy because she was the main reason why I loved this book so much. I related so darn hard to her! Her very dry, sarcastic, crass and kind of immature sense of humour is so similar to mine and the way she uses humour as a shield against the tough stuff happening in her life…..yup been there. When I was reading her internal monologue, some of the little asides she made during the book, I kept going, yup, yup, yup. So naturally because I related to her a lot, I was really rooting for her and got suitably angry on her behalf when everything went down. Also the fact that she and her friends were always eating and she spent a large amount of time thinking about food-yup. Just reading about her and her friends felt so relatable to my own friendship group (we spend a lot of time ribbing each other as well) and that really endeared me to this book. The voice is definitely one of the strongest attributes of this book, such a relatable, realistic teenage voice.
I did love the humour, I was laughing almost constantly whilst reading, but I will say the entire book does feel very British despite being set in America. I get that this is probably because Laura Steven is British but the book had to be set in America for the revenge porn plot to work (it’s illegal in the UK), but still, the juxtaposition between the setting and the voice of the book was kind of jarring when the voice sounds very British and the setting is American. I don’t know whether other reviewers have noticed this, or if it was just especially jarring to me because I’m British. Ironically though, the fact that Izzy’s voice smacked of British humour was one of the reasons I probably related so hard to her!
I loved Izzy’s development throughout the novel, how she goes from really confident and self assured, to putting on a front, to finally embracing her vulnerabilities, to getting angry and wanting to fight back. It felt like a really natural journey for her to go through and I liked that she came out the other side having grown and learned something.
Izzy and Ajita’s friendship was just goals. As I mentioned before, it kind of reminded me of me and my own friends, just the way they constantly ribbed each other but would fight tooth and nail for the other one and were so supportive, it was just a really lovely portrayal of female friendship. I also loved that for once, romance took a backseat to friendship in this book!
There was some nice diversity in the book, Izzy’s friend Ajita is Nepali and LGBTQ+ and there’s some interesting exploration of what this means for her, though I would have liked to have seen more of that. Carson, the main love interest is black, and Izzy and Ajita’s friend Meg is in a wheelchair. This all felt very natural and was just kind of there in the background of the book.
It was nice to see a poorer protagonist take centre stage in this book, so often YA protagonists are middle class, and you don’t really get to see many books focusing on a working class experience, but Izzy and her grandmother are poor and this informs a lot of Izzy’s character and her interactions with people. It also added to the social commentary of the book, talking about how wrong it is that some elderly people have to continue working to the detriment of their health because they can’t afford not to, and really played into Izzy’s interactions with Danny.
Speaking of Danny, my gosh I don’t think I’ve ever been more mad at a fictional character. Danny is the definition of white male privilege and TEOOO (and Izzy) is not afraid to call him out on it. One of the things I loved so much about this book is that it really delves into the “Friend Zone” and explores what that really means and that is something we don’t see enough of in YA. It also, very harshly and effectively debunks the “Nice Guy” trope. I think we all know a “Nice Guy” and will definitely recognise guys we have known, or gone out with in Danny.
I would have liked to have seen Meg more, she seemed like a really fun character and I hope that the sequel to this book will focus on the new “Tripod” of Izzy, Meg and Ajita.
The positive attitude towards sex in this book was so refreshing, it’s definitely something I could have used when I was a teen and I can’t imagine how empowering this book will be to teenage girls in embracing their sexuality.
Mrs Crannon was awesome and it was nice to see a really positive teacher figure in this book!
I liked the inclusion of the Bitches Bite Back posts at the end, especially the one about the Friend Zone!
Overall, this book was funny, feminist and incredibly timely and I think if you read one contemporary YA book this year, it should be this one. It explores slut shaming, Nice Guys, the Friend Zone, poverty, feminism and revenge porn all in a very humorous and accessible way. I can’t wait to read the sequel!
My Rating: 4/5
Bechdel Test: PASS-Honestly I would have been disappointed if it hadn’t! Izzy has numerous conversations with other female characters in this book that had nothing to do with boys.